Michelle Whitton’s close friend: Michelle was acting as if “something was wrong” before she disappeared
SCOTTSBORO, Ala. (WHNT) — The State is still calling witnesses to the stand to testify about Michelle Whitton’s disappearance and death in the high-profile murder trial for her husband, Barry Whitton.
Barry Whitton is charged with the murder of his first wife, Michelle Whitton, in 1997. Her body was found buried in a shallow grave in DeKalb County weeks later, her car, before that.
Lead prosecutor Leigh Gwathney called Rebecca White to the stand. White testified she knew Michelle through her husband, as they were related, and described herself as one of Michelle’s best friends.
White testified she saw Michelle the week before she was reported missing, and went to her house on the Wednesday prior. White told the court it seemed like something was wrong, saying Michelle was normally the kind of person who was always happy. “I just could tell something was wrong,” White said. “She didn’t tell me what was wrong, but I could tell.”
Gwathney asked about the carpet in the master bedroom, where during the investigation, it was revealed a piece had been cut up, and blood had been found. White testified when she was there, there weren’t any holes or throw rugs on the carpet.
White then testified that Michelle came by her house the Friday before she went missing, saying she had “something really important to tell her,” but testified Michelle left, because White was sick. White told the court that was the last time she saw Michelle.
White said after Michelle went missing, she would watch the Whitton’s small son Ethan while Barry Whitton was at work. White told the court Whitton’s interaction with his son was a “little strange,” saying he never mentioned Michelle and “it wasn’t like he was concerned” while he was in front of her. White testified she saw him every day during that work week of watching Ethan while Michelle was missing.
White said she defended Barry Whitton after Michelle came up missing, but testified things changed when Michelle’s body was found. White told the court it wasn’t because Michelle’s body was found, but because of where she was found and Whitton’s familiarity with the area.
Retired ABI criminal investigator Mack Atkinson took the stand next. He was involved in the investigation initially, when it was a missing persons case.
The State asked Atkinson to describe the scene when Michelle’s body was found. He testified the property owner discovered the location and called police. Atkinson said when he got there, he said a trail could be followed to where the body was located. He also testified he saw what looked like tracks from a small truck, saying it looked like it had been some time before someone had driven out there.
Atkinson told the court he could see cotton-like material stuck to shrubs along the path to where the body was found. He said it was on both sides of the trail, and went almost all the way down to it.
Testimony revealed that when Barry Whitton was told the body had been found, he didn’t ask where investigators had found the body, or about the condition his wife was found in, whether she had any injuries, and that Whitton didn’t have any questions. Atkinson told the court he didn’t recall him being upset in any way.
The State asked about the towels that were recovered in the search of the Whittons’ home, and Atkinson testified that several of the towels found in the residence had the same brand as the towel pulled from where Michelle was buried. Gwathney asked if that brand is popular, to which Atkinson replied it is, but it didn’t change the significance to him in light of everything else.
The State asked if they developed a suspect. Atkinson said yes they did, and that suspect was Barry Whitton, saying too many things pointed to him.
“Too many things that were not a coincidence,” Atkinson said. “The location where Mrs. Whitton was found, evidence in the house that we looked at, his lack of concern for his wife, the questions that he asked, statements that he made to me, the fact that the other people that were, you might call persons of interest, didn’t even know the Whittons. I ruled them out pretty quick. I want to make this clear, when I got into this Mr. Whitton was a person of interest along with five or six others. We ruled them out pretty quick.”
Testimony revealed investigators never found evidence that would link their persons of interest to the murder of Michelle Whitton and never found any information that linked them to Michelle or Barry Whitton. The court was told investigators never found any of those people to have a motive to kill Michelle or set Barry Whitton up to have killed her. Atkinson told the court if there had been, he said he would have pursued that information.
Atkinson answered the State’s last question, saying the only suspect they have in 17 years is Barry Whitton.
After lunch one of Whitton’s lawyers, Gerald Paulk, approached Atkinson asking him if he talked with the Shane Byrum, whose wallet was found near Michelle’s car, and asked if he was a person of interest. Atkinson said he would have been a person of interest, and said Byrum didn’t know the Whittons, and later, told the court Byrum never became a suspect. The defense questioned any inconsistencies in the statements Byrum gave about losing the wallet, but it was revealed nothing came of finding the wallet. Testimony also revealed that Byrum provided the names of four other people who might have taken his wallet, and Atkinson said he interviewed all of them and that revealed they never knew any of the Whittons. Atkinson testified he was satisfied that Byrum had lost his wallet, but didn’t know where he lost it.
The defense asked Atkinson if he took a statement from a man who said he had seen Michelle driving on the morning of December 7th, the day Michelle went missing. Atkinson said he did speak with that man and took a statement from him. Atkinson said he didn’t put a lot of value on it because it didn’t fit the timeline that they had.
The defense asked if anyone talked to the next door neighbors, and Atkinson replied that he is not aware if anyone talked with them, he didn’t talk with them personally.
The defense questioned about a call made to police by the property owner where Michelle’s body was found days after she had been missing, saying there might be a body on the property, and whether or not anyone followed through. Atkinson testified that he had only heard about that during an interview, after the body was found.
Whitton’s lawyers asked about the duct tape that was found in Whitton’s home. Atkinson said they took it because there was duct tape that was found in the hole where Michelle was buried. The defense asked if the tape was ever matched, and Atkinson said he didn’t know.
The questions then turned to if when Atkinson sent off the gun to the lab, whether or not it the murder weapon. Atkinson replied it could have been.
Court will resume Friday morning.